Founded on the principle of preserving and celebrating the cable industry’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, the Cable Pioneers now counts more than 500 members chosen over the course of the organization’s 42 years.
An honor roll of cable’s finest, the Pioneers are individuals who have helped shape, refine and even reinvent the industry. Their accomplishments run the gamut from technical innovations to breakthrough marketing strategies.
This year’s crop of honorees includes Tom Gullett, who introduced cable service to several small towns in Eastern Kentucky back in 1948, making his system one of the very first in the country.
“In the small coal-mining towns of Kentucky, the houses were lined up right next to each other,” Gullett said. “I experimented with getting the signal off the air, when I saw pictures coming from a nearby mountain top. I immediately recognized how powerful TV entertainment could be.”
Most of the 2008 class of Cable Pioneers wasn’t even born when Gullett was bringing cable to Kentucky. One who was, John Klindworth, climbed a local water tower in Zumbro Falls, Minn., and installed antennas to receive the Minneapolis broadcast signals, circa 1960. Klindworth would go on to build cable systems in the Caribbean and New Zealand.
For Greg Bicket, the thought of a 25-year plan at one chemical company didn’t match up well with his overall career plan, so cable popped up on his radar screen. “There was exploration being done in cable and I always loved change,” he said. “I was intrigued.”
For fellow Pioneer Mark Manning, cable was barely even an afterthought. “I didn’t know what cable was. But after I attended my first cable show, I told my boss I think I found a career. It was amazing,” Manning said. He would eventually become a key contributor to the growth of his company, CommScope, and to several industry organizations.
For Michael Johnson, it just took a van and an idea, and he was able to build a world-class cable construction and installation business. “I was always intrigued by the concept that an antenna placed on a hill, with some amplifiers, provided multiple channels,” Johnson said.
It was always about channels for Steve Nelson, whose vision of a hotel-room TV channel for the Cable Show, The Cable Channel, is now a staple — and a valuable service — for thousands of convention attendees.
“The thing that keeps this fascinating is how the industry continues to evolve, and covering the people who have made this industry what it is,” Nelson said.
Another honoree, Russ Skinner, was 12 years old when he started building his own radio equipment. For 34 years, he has been instrumental in providing organizations such as the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers with invaluable know-how in the development and deployment of hybrid fiber coaxial networks.
And Dave Fellows’s work at GTE Labs in the early 1980s was short-circuited when he discovered that cable was embedding microprocessors inside set-top boxes while the telephone industry was still dipping coil in Vaseline for water resistance.
“We’re toast!” was Fellows’s reaction, knowing the cable was advancing much more quickly than the telephone industry. He soon joined Scientific-Atlanta and went on to become a key member of its executive team.
Russ Hilliard was 14 when he was introduced to cable legend Bill Daniels, who strongly recommended a career in the industry. Hilliard took Daniels’ advice, going on to build a string of cable systems in several states and contributing heavily to the National Cable Television Cooperative during its fledgling years.
This year’s Cable Pioneers will be honored during the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Cable Show in New Orleans, May 18 to 20.
For more news from NCTA's The Cable Show '08, click here.
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